Stroke rehab at home

February 23, 2010 3:23:47 PM PST
It strikes 800,000 people every year and is the leading cause of long-term disability in the United States. Ninety-five percent of stroke survivors struggle to move one or both of their arms after the attack. A new invention is helping people regain function while rehabbing in their own homes and providing hope for those who were once told they wouldn't recover.Tour Shary Shreffler's art collection, and you would think her days are filled with sunshine and roses.

"Most of my paintings are happy," Shreffler said. "I have hope."

But since her stroke three years ago, this eternal optimist has to work harder to find a silver lining.

"It's torture to live in a body that doesn't cooperate," Shreffler said. "It really is like a little private prison."

Her entire left side was paralyzed. She re-learned how to walk, but her arm stayed in a fixed position.

Shreffler spent more than a year in physical and occupational therapy. She tried hypnosis, acupuncture and exercise. None of it helped her arm, and it all left her in pain.

"I've visited hell," Shreffler said. "I have. However, I'm emerging from it."

Emerging, by trying a new rehab home.

She's using a low-tech contraption that's the brain child of researchers Sandy McCombe Waller and Jill Whitall. They've worked for more than a decade to prove people can recover years after stroke.

"It's exciting to find that there is now an option for people who thought they were counted out," said Dr. Waller, associate professor of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

It's called Tailwind. The device helps arms move independently so a weak arm cannot depend on a functioning arm. The repetition reworks pathways in the part of the brain that controls motor skills.

"We encourage both arms, because there's a sort of neuro-functional coupling between the arms," Dr. Whitall, professor of physical therapy and rehabilitation science at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, explained.

After two months, Shreffler can raise her arm.

"I could have never done that," Shreffler said. "Not even close."

Bringing this artist back to a happier and more hopeful place.

A study found two-thirds of patients who were at least six months post-stroke regained some arm movement after using the device for six weeks. Shreffler uses the device for 20 minutes every other day. The Tailwind costs about $2,000 and is not covered by insurance for home use.